Friday, 22 September 2017

Opening Sentences

"Corporal Maiden Barbara Whitley of Freetoon, hereditary huntress, wing leader of the crossbow cavalry, and novice in the Mysteries, halted her orsper and peered through a screen of brush."
-Poul Anderson, "Virgin Planet" IN Anderson, Starship (New York, 1982), pp. 83-181 AT p. 83;
-Poul Anderson, Virgin Planet (London, 1966), Chapter I, p. 9.

"Lord Brannoch dhu Crombar, Tertiary Admiral of the Fleet, High Noble of Thor, ambassador of the League of Alpha Centauri to the Solar Technate, did not look like a dignitary of any civilized power."
-Poul Anderson, The Long Way Home (Frogmore, St Albans, Herts, 1975), Chapter Two, p.17.

"Grand Admiral Syranax hyr Urnan, hereditary Commander-in-chief of the Fleet of Drak'ho, Fisher of the Western Seas, Leader in Sacrifice, and Oracle of the Lodestar, spread his wings and brought them together again in an astonished thunderclap."
-Poul Anderson, The Man Who Counts IN Anderson, The Van Rijn Method (Riverdale, NY, 2009), pp. 337-515 AT I, p. 339;
-Poul Anderson, War Of The Wing Men (New York, 1958), I, p. 5.

"His Imperial Majesty, High Emperor Hans Friedrich Molitor, of his dynasty the first, Supreme Guardian of the Pax, Grand Director of the Stellar Council, Commander-in-chief, Final Arbiter, acknowledged supreme on more worlds and honorary head of more organizations than any man could remember, sat by himself in a room at the top of a tower."
-Poul Anderson, A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows IN Anderson, Sir Dominic Flandry: The Last Knight Of Terra (Riverdale, NY, 2012), pp. 339-606 AT pp. 377-378.

See also Grandiose Titles.

We discern a pattern here.

Barbara is in the Psychotechnic History;
Brannoch is in a one-off novel;
Syranax and Hans are in the Technic History.

Barbara is a novice in the Mysteries and Syranax is a sacrifice-leading Oracle whereas Brannoch and Hans have no religious functions. I was going to analyze Barbara's various ranks and titles but I think that I will leave it there for tonight!

Leaf And Stars

"Trevelyan threw off the safety webbing, and ran across the deck, two steps to the shaft and then down the beam like a dead leaf falling in England's October."
-Poul Anderson, The Peregrine (New York, 1979), Chapter XX, pp. 183-184.

This sf action scene ends with such a striking simile that it made me seek out an image of an English autumn. Trevelyan descending the gravity shaft in a space boat in the Great Cross is compared to one of these leafs.

The October Country is an evocative title by Ray Bradbury.

The Peregrine ends:

"The sky darkened around them and the stars came forth." (op. cit., p. 184)

With just a slight rephrasing, this sentence could have ended with the word "stars," like the last chapter (not the Coda) of James Blish's They Shall Have Stars (Cities In Flight, Volume I) and all three Volumes of Dante's Comedy. Stars are important even if we cannot travel to them. Imagine if all that we saw in the sky was the sun, moon and planets.

As the sky darkens and the stars appear, we are either at or very near the end of the Psychotechnic History, depending on whether we include "The Chapter Ends" in that History. I am inclined to include it.

My next projects for the blog are to reread Virgin Planet and The Snows Of Ganymede but they will have to compete with a Montalbano novel. The opening sentence of The Snows... is apposite after a reference to Dante:

"Three dead men walked across the face of hell."
-Poul Anderson, The Snows Of Ganymede (New York, 1958), Chapter 1, p. 5.

However, this is hard sf: "...dead..." and "...hell..." are metaphors. Rereading of the future history continues.

Conscious Instruments

Contending powers use conscious beings as instruments:

SMERSH sends Tatiana Romanova to entice James Bond;
the Alori send Ilaloa to entice Peregrine Thorkild Sean.

(We would say "Sean Thorkild of the Peregrine.")

Both change sides, which was always a risk for their controllers. Tatiana is one of the Bond heroines who disappears from sight as soon as her particular episode is completed whereas we do know what becomes of Ilaloa, caught in an unresolvable conflict. She helps the Nomads to escape from an Alorian planet, then jumps from the ascending space boat.

It is a remarkable achievement to create a fictional series with characters and settings recognized and valued by readers. I say this because I have just bought a new Inspector Montalbano novel with the routine opening of Salvo waking in his apartment. But, of course, the first two detective series were Dupin and Holmes. Poul Anderson, with his many fictional series, was a major successor of Conan Doyle.

As It Is

"'The world is as it is,' he said. 'We've got to live with that - not with the world as we think it should be.'"
-Poul Anderson, The Peregrine (New York, 1979), Chapter XVIII, p. 162.

This is only half the truth, like "The bottle is half empty." Human beings have changed this world, Earth, with hands and brains and can change more than Earth. But we can't change everything. One of the things that has to be accepted is that people do change things, changing themselves in the process. Another is that there are basic laws that we can learn but not alter.

In Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, and probably elsewhere, there is a prayer for courage to change what can be changed, patience to accept what cannot be changed and wisdom to tell the difference. Another good aphorism is "Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will." Whatever our condition, there is always something that can be done.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Cosmic Conflicts

Cosmic conflicts in Poul Anderson's works:

Chaos versus Law (see here);
control versus freedom;
Freeholders versus the Terran Empire (see here);
Avalon versus the Terran Empire;
Alori versus the Stellar Union;
Wardens versus Rangers (see here);
AI versus humanity (see here).

Other examples?
Is it always the same conflict?
Is the dividing line always drawn in the same place?
Are the heroes always on the same side?

In Anderson's conflicts, basic philosophical issues are always at stake.


Pan, a Greek myth, referenced in English literature, is carried forward into Poul Anderson's first two future history series.

In the Psychotechnic History, on a paradisal planet in the Great Cross:

"Ilaloa danced before her companions, laughing aloud, wild with the sudden joy of release. Like a wood nymph, thought Trevelyan - and any moment Pan might come piping from the brush."
-Poul Anderson, The Peregrine (New York, 1979), Chapter XV, pp. 133-134.

Is Pan present? Yes. In the mind of Trevelyan, where all gods are. The One imagines that It is us and we imagine the gods so They are in us and we are in It.

In the Technic History, Flandry summarizes and Aycharaych quotes an English poem about Pan. See here. Aycharaych claims the role of Pan - to make beauty through suffering.


A conversation in Poul Anderson, The Peregrine (New York, 1979), Chapter XIV, pp. 127-128, reminds us of two earlier installments of Anderson's Psychotechnic History but in different ways.

First, Trevelyan reflects on:

"The ancient war...the immemorial struggle of intelligence to master itself." (p. 127)

This recalls "the old and protean enemy."

Secondly, Trevelyan says that, when he needs an assistant, it is another Coordinator, usually "' otherling.'" (p. 128) This is the basis of "The Pirate," written later but set earlier. See here.

For another story written later, set earlier and based on a conversation in a spaceship, see here.

Poul Anderson's Reasons For Abandoning The Psychotechnic History

Poul Anderson, Author's Note IN Anderson, The Psychotechnic League (New York, 1981), pp. 283-285.

The real world had diverged:

World War III has not happened yet;
important scientific discoveries and technological advances have happened;
people, institutions and Anderson's view of them had changed.

So why republish the series?

It still entertains, like the works of Rider Haggard and ERB;
it may evoke pleasant memories for older readers;
it will be new to younger readers;
it may be helpful to scholars of sf.

It does and is.

"Any Hyperdrive Ship"

The Nomads view an alien spaceship:

"It had the elongated shape necessary to any hyperdrive ship, where field generators must be mounted fore and aft. But it was no vessel of man's building. The cylinder was beveled into flat planes; the stern bulged, and the nose held a spear-shaped mast of some kind. Its metal was a coppery alloy, flaming ruddy in the harsh sunlight, and they could see that the hull was patched and pitted - old."
-Poul Anderson, The Peregrine (New York, 1979), Chapter XIV, p. 123.

Sf fans have been reading about hyperdrive spacecraft all our lives but did we know that any hyperdrive ship must be elongated with field generators at each end? No but Poul Anderson makes us believe this. We view the alien craft through the eyes of a Nomad crew and one Cordy.

I have already discussed hyperspace in the Psychotechnic History and another (humorous) kind of elongated spaceship here.

Extraterrestrial Life

(The woman on this cover is extraterrestrial.)

Erulani soldiers:

deep amber-yellow skin;
flat Mongoloid faces;
four-fingered hands;
large, pointed ears;
a single straight black eyebrow;
oblique felinoid eyes;
slit-purpled, smoky-red, unwinking irises;
long blue tunics;
legginged breeches;
beryllium-copper chain mail;
spiked helmets;
curved swords worn on the right.
(The Peregrine, Chapter IX, p. 76)

We are told that:

"The eyes were the least human feature..." (ibid.)

But the assumption is made that there are eyes, that there are two of them etc. All of this is very anthropomorphic.

"' vegetables from an E-planet would help morale until we get our own tanks producing again.'" (Chapter XIII, p. 119)

The universe would be a very hospitable place if it were such an easy matter for an FTL spaceship to find Earth-type planets growing edible green vegetables. Later Anderson future histories make the opposite assumption: STL explorers find very little life.